By Ingrid Gadpaille, Kitchen Store Specialist
I want to talk about knives!
Knives are so important in the kitchen, and here at Allen and Petersen we offer 3 distinct brands: Kyocera Ceramic, Shun Stainless steel and Zwilling Stainless steel. I want to explain the basic construction techniques of each, their intended uses, and the excellent one time investment that high quality knives are.
People often express hesitation about spending what can be a large sum of money on something that is pretty small! I think this comes from a lack of understanding about how important a good knife is to safely and quickly preparing food, how well it will hold an edge, how it can save you from yourself if you don’t have basic knife skills, and how knives may be small (usually) but they’re mighty!
I’ll start with the Kyocera knives from Japan; they’re something of a curiosity, having a ceramic blade, which just doesn’t seem like it could possibly be useful in food prep! Here are some amazing facts about Kyocera knives:
The blade is harder than steel!
They’re second only to diamonds in hardness!
They will never rust or stain.
They stay sharper 10 times longer than steel knives.
They cannot react with food, including acidics, and they are totally inert, chemically.
The blade is comprised of the element Zircon which is initially compressed in a knife blade blank with 300 tons of pressure! The blanks are then hardened by firing at 1400 degrees for 48 hours. Each blade is hand sharpened and polished by traditional knife making masters! The handles are ergonomically shaped and molded plastic.
These ceramic knives are best suited for use with boneless meats or fish, softer vegetables and fruits. They are not meant to be used to cut through bones or very hard vegetables; in spite of their hardness, they can chip, I’ve done it! I blame myself, not the knife – like any tool, they work best when used as intended!
Next on the list is Shun (pronounced “shoon”) also from Japan. We carry 3 lines of Shun:
The Sora – The entry level line, excellent and beautiful knives for the price.
The Classic – also beautiful and well balances so it can be used for the home or professional cook.
The Premier – a very dramatic looking partially hammered blade, home or professional use line.
Some of the major features of Shun, across each line, are these:
The edge geometry is 16 degrees on each side, which is very fine, and is maintained by using superior steel – a proprietary blend of Chromium and carbon steel called VG-10 for the Sora edge, and the remainder of the blade being either 410 or 420J. Both are even more stain resistant than the VG-10. The Classic and Premier line are made from sandwiching VGMax- an extremely hard "super steel" that holds its edge longer. Shun has taken the time and effort to make the blade’s construction distinctive in all 3 lines, which takes them from strictly utilitarian to usable art! (In my opinion.) The handles are molded resin for the Sora, resin-impregnated Pakawood for the Classic line, and polished Pakawood for the Premier line. These knives can be used for many different purposes, with the shape of the blade making the use either very specific (like fileting) or more general, like a chef’s knife. See more details on each line in their catalog.
The third line of knives is the Zwilling, J.A. Henkels line from Solingen, Germany. This company dates back to 1731 and has one of the oldest trademarks – the Gemini Twins on the blades – in the world.
This company uses a high carbon, special formula steel that is ice-hardened as a single piece as part of the production process! The blade geometry is 22 degrees on both sides, and 3 of the lines offer “Full Tang” construction meaning that the knife is a single piece of metal that extends all the way to the end of the handle.
Within the brand we have:
The Four Star – an entry level line with the same ice-hardening blade process, a “hard” bolster and synthetic molded handles
The Classic – A full tang, hard bolster and distinct 3 rivet handle.
The Pro “S” - has a laser controlled edge that is exceptionally sharp, the Full Tang, and hard bolster.
The Pro – all the same features as the Pro S line, but the bolster is “soft”, which is a new design feature that makes the knife easier to hold and use. The Bolster is where the blade transitions from flat to tang, and is where the knuckle of your first finger rests. The Full Tang lines all have molded resin handles that sandwich the tang.
Okay, that’s all of the basics, whew! If you’re still with me, I want to talk about the more subjective, but really important aspects of knife knowledge, which is how they feel when you hold them. This is no small thing – if a knife doesn’t feel like an extension of your hand, you won’t want to reach for it as the tool you need to make your work go more easily.
The knife needs to feel light enough that you can move it in any direction easily, balanced enough that you don’t have to reposition your hand, ever, and it needs to fit your individual hand, be it small, medium or large. The shape of the handle and the bolster are also top considerations; I have small hands, so some of the chubby, “ergonomic” handles that are meant to fill the palm are too big for my hand and cause strain if I use them for too long. As well, a “hard” bolster can actually cause blisters, I’ve done that too! So, the soft bolster that was mentioned earlier is a really great design improvement!
Armed with this brief and basic information, when you feel ready to graduate to excellent quality knives that will last you the rest of your life (with proper use and care!) please consider coming in to Allen and Petersen to talk to our helpful sales staff and explore the possibilities that we have. And to keep your investment both safe and sharp, we have knife sets in storage blocks, empty blocks for your current collection, magnetic strips for wall storage, honing steels for interim blade maintenance and in home sharpeners as well. We also have knife bags for the professional to use in transporting personal knives to and from work. And even if you’re just interested in sharpening your own skills, or if you want to ‘test drive’ any of the knives mentioned above, we do offer Knife Skills classes so you can try your hand at all the different variations before selecting your first piece or building your collection.